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Appliances

Direct your heat with the Keen Home Smart Vent

The Keen Home Smart Vent replaces your existing vents to allow room-specific control over your heat.

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LAS VEGAS -- With the Keen Home Smart Vent, temperature control is no longer limited to the thermostat. You can open and shut these app-enabled vents from your phone, or let their temperature and pressure sensors automate the task based on your preferences. Ideally, this will allow you to save money by closing off rooms when they're not in use, focusing heat toward the living room during the evening, for example, or the bedroom at night.

Because the vents have temperature sensors, the Keen Home system, shown at the 2015 International CES, should also help regulate airflow to give you an ideal comfort level in whatever room you're in, instead of having to heat the whole house until the thermostat in the hallway hits the sweet spot. The Keen Home app supposedly also has learning capabilities, so it can anticipate your patterns and help shift the focus from room to room for you as you go about your daily routine.

How it works

The Keen Home Smart Vent should start working fairly quickly after you replace your standard vent and connect it. You'll set up zones throughout your house via the app, then tell the system your preferences so it can use those zones to keep you comfy, opening and closing the vents as it senses hot and cold spots.

Open and close the vent with an app. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Alternatively, you can open and close each vent individually if you prefer to do it yourself or find one uncomfortably blowing in your face. The vents will run on four double-A batteries each, but Keen Home hopes they'll draw little enough power that you'll be able to use a single set for up to two years.

Each vent costs $80, but Keen Home doesn't recommend replacing all the vents in your home. Because too many closed vents can put undo pressure on your HVAC system, Keen Home recommends replacing only one-third or fewer of your vents with smart ones.

Thankfully, the pressure sensor built into each Smart Vent should act as a safeguard. If shut, the vent will open a little if it feels the system starting to strain, providing some relief while still keeping the airflow to a minimum.

Interoperability

Keen Home offers a variety of design choices. Sarah Tew/CNET

To connect, the Keen Home Smart Vent communicates with ZigBee. I've found ZigBee to have a long device-to-device signal range on previous products, but it also means the Keen Home Smart Vent can't communicate directly with the cloud or your phone. The Vent is designed to be an important piece in an existing smart-home network, and you'll need a hub that hooks into your router and understands ZigBee to use one.

Keen Home has a partnership with existing hub maker SmartThings , as well as Lowe's, which has its own Iris Home Management System . Keen Home is also taking steps toward joining the Works with Nest program.

A Nest partnership seems as though it would be particularly fruitful for Keen Home, giving even more control over heat in a home.

Limitations

Without such a partnership with a smart thermostat, the Keen Home Smart Vent will be limited in its ability to control the temperature of specific rooms -- rather than picking specific temperatures, you'll just be able to make certain rooms a little warmer, or a little colder.

It seems perfect for shutting off unused areas entirely and saving money on the heating bill. According to Keen Home, the initial round of beta testing shows a potential for up to 10 - 15 percent savings.

When it comes to controlling the rooms you're using, it can manipulate the temp somewhat by opening, shutting or angling the vents, but it's still relying on the thermostat to actually turn the air on or off.

Keen Home's main competition will come from Ecovent , a much costlier system that will attempt the same rerouting of your HVAC air. Ecovent puts its sensors on a separate plug, and recommends replacing every vent in your home with an Ecovent, so it can avoid the same pressure buildup Keen Home avoids by only swapping a third of your vents.

Ecovent claims a separate temperature sensor gets better readings than one on the vent, and having every vent direct your airflow in unison seems a more thorough approach then having the occasional vent reposition when you need it. Using Ecovent will cost roughly $200 a room, though, and there might be some logic to affordably replacing key vents instead of overhauling your whole home.

Whether or not Keen Home's sensors on the vent itself work as well as Ecovent's isolated readers will be something I'm excited to test.

Outlook

Sarah Tew/CNET

If the Nest integration goes well, and the Keen Home Smart Vent can communicate your needs to the thermostat and send heat to your living room instead of your hallway, this will be a great addition to your smart home.

On its own, one Smart Vent provides solid utility and convenience for $80. That price makes a vent seem like a reasonable-enough splurge, but you'll need a hub to get it to work no matter what. If you already have one, this vent should help save you some money right away. If not, it's worth watching the Keen Home Smart Vent to see if its promised partnerships and capabilities can elevate it to its full potential. See all CNET's CES 2015 coverage here.

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